Arkansas Assessment Letter

June 22, 2006

The Honorable Ken James
Commissioner of Education
Arkansas Department of Education
Four State Capitol Mall, Room 304 A
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201-1071

Dear Commissioner James:

Thank you for your participation in the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department) standards and assessment peer review process under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). I appreciate the efforts required to prepare for the peer review. As you know, with the implementation of NCLB’s accountability provisions, each school, district, and State is held accountable for making adequate yearly progress (AYP) towards having all students proficient by 2013-14. An assessment system that produces valid and reliable results is fundamental to a State’s accountability system.

I am writing to follow up on the peer review of Arkansas’ standards and assessments, which occurred February 15-17, 2006. The results of this peer review process indicated that additional evidence was necessary for Arkansas to meet the statutory and regulatory requirements of Section 1111(b)(1) and (3) of the ESEA. At this time, the need for that evidence remains.

As you will recall, the Department laid out new approval categories in the letter to the Chief State School Officers on April 24, 2006. These categories better reflect where States collectively are in the process of meeting the statutory standards and assessment requirements and where each State individually stands. Based on these new categories, the current status of the Arkansas standards and assessment system is Approval Pending. This status indicates that Arkansas’ standards and assessment system administered in the 2005-06 school year has at least two fundamental components that are missing or that do not meet the statutory and regulatory requirements, in addition to other outstanding issues that can be addressed more immediately. These deficiencies must be resolved in a timely manner so that the standards and assessment system administered next year meets all requirements. The Department believes that Arkansas can address the outstanding issues by the next administration of its assessment system, that is, by the end of the 2006-07 school year.

Arkansas’ system has a number of fundamental components that warrant the designation of Approval Pending. Specifically, the Department cannot approve Arkansas’ standards and assessment system due to outstanding concerns with the lack of item complexity on all assessments and the alignment of both the assessments of students with disabilities and the assessments of limited English proficient students. Please refer to the enclosure for a detailed list of the evidence Arkansas must submit to meet the requirements for an approved standards and assessment system.

Accordingly, Arkansas is placed under Mandatory Oversight, as authorized under 34 C.F.R. §80.12. Under this status, there will be specific conditions placed on Arkansas’ fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A grant award. In addition, Arkansas must provide, not later than 25 business days from receipt of this letter, a plan and detailed timeline for how it will meet the remaining requirements to come into full compliance by the end of the 2006-07 school year. Beginning in September 2006, Arkansas must also provide bi-monthly reports on its progress implementing the plan. If, at any time, Arkansas does not meet the timeline set forth in its plan, the Department will initiate proceedings, pursuant to Section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA, to withhold 15 percent of Arkansas’s fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, which will then revert to local educational agencies in Arkansas.

I know you are anxious to receive full approval of your standards and assessment system and we are committed to helping you get there. Toward that end, let me reiterate my earlier offer of technical assistance. We remain available to assist you however necessary to ensure you administer a fully approved standards and assessment system. We will schedule an additional peer review when you have evidence available to further evaluate your system. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact Catherine Freeman ( or Grace Ross ( of my staff.


Henry L. Johnson


cc: Governor Mike Huckabee
Janinne Riggs

Summary of Additional Evidence that Arkansas Must Submit to Meet ESEA Requirements for the Arkansas Assessment System


  • Evidence that the cut scores for the alternate portfolio for LEP student in geometry have been set and approved.
  • Evidence that science descriptors for the grade spans 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12 have been developed. Evidence the alternate achievement standards’ descriptors for science has been developed. (Critical Element 2.2 on page 10 of peer notes.)
  • Evidence is needed to show that parents are informed when a student’s achievement will be based on alternate achievement standards.


  • Evidence that the assessments measure higher-order thinking skills and student understanding of challenging content and a detailed plan with timelines to address gaps in the lack of item complexity identified in the alignment study.
  • A clear, meaningful explanation from WestEd of its alignment findings.


  • Additional documentation for the high school literacy, algebra and geometry end-of-course assessments for standard setting, participants, outcomes and procedures. Arkansas has submitted this information; but it must be peer reviewed.
  • Evidence of comparability of test scores between the LEP portfolio assessments and the CRTs [4.4 (a)]. This evidence must include formal alignment studies to insure comparable content coverage and higher-order thinking skills as well as comparability of performance levels across assessments; technical analyses supporting the validity, reliability, and comparability of test results; and a detailed plan and timeline for providing this evidence.
  • Evidence of the standard setting process for the LEP alternate portfolio in geometry.
  • For the LEP portfolio, information about the process and procedures used to establish consistency across forms and the comparability of test results over time.


  • Results of the alignment study for the alternate assessment for SWD (2006) including a detailed timeline for the completion of this study.
  • Results of the alignment study for the LEP alternate assessment (May/June of 2006) and analysis of its relationship to the CRT in reading and math, including a detailed timeline for the completion of this study.
  • Clearer documentation of alignment by categorical concurrence, comprehensiveness, depth-of-knowledge and emphasis, where categorical concurrence means the adequacy of the assessment items in addressing each content standard and where math and reading are analyzed by grade level content standards/GLE as opposed to grade levels as a whole and, based on that documentation, a detailed plan with timelines for addressing all identified gaps.
  • After the completion of the alignment study for the LEP alternate assessment and the SWD alternate assessment, a detailed plan and timeline, if needed, for addressing any identified gaps in the assessments.

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